Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a serious medical condition that affects a large percentage of the world’s population. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 350 million people worldwide may be suffering from depression at any given time.
Sufferers often misdiagnose depression, believing that they are either just suffering from a lack of sleep or a poor diet. Even those who are aware that they are depressed may feel too ashamed to seek the help that they need.
For some, depression can be treated without medication, but for others, meds are an essential part of the treatment process. Antidepressants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are what are prescribed to help tackle the symptoms of depression.
Depression: The Diagnosis
The diagnosis of depression should only ever come from a health professional. They will look at several factors, such as severity, duration, and the appearance of some or all of the following symptoms”
- Change in mood
- A loss of interest in activities that previously brought joy
- Weight loss and change of appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Restlessness or slowed movements
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Feeling of guilt and worthlessness
- An inability to make decisions or concentrate for extended periods
- Persistent thoughts of suicide or death
To begin your mental health evaluation, your doctor will usually take into account your previous medical history. They will then take a look at your current symptoms, ruling out other potential health issues, such as Parkinson’s disease and thyroid disease, before arriving at a diagnosis of depression.
There is also a better than average chance that your doctor will screen for bipolar disorder, a brain issue that can come with many of the same symptoms as depression. This screening is especially important, as a patient suffering from bipolar disorder who is prescribed with depression medication can end up suffering from elevated moods that border on mania. A person who becomes manic can very quickly turn psychotic.
Treating Depression with Medication
Medications used to treat depression are believed to work by altering the brain chemicals – serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc. – referred to as neurotransmitters. It is these chemicals that are responsible for regulating your mood.
Antidepressants tend to fall into certain classifications, such as:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); these include the likes of Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Celexa (citalopram)
- serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs); these include Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine)
- tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs); these include Pamelor (nortriptyline), Elavil (amitriptyline), and Tofranil (imipramine)
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs); these include Parnate (tranylcypromine) and Nardil (phenelzine)
Doctors may also prescribe the following antidepressants:
- Remeron (mirtazapine)
- Wellbutrin (bupropion)
The medications that are prescribed to treat depression have very different effects on the neurotransmitters in the brain. SSRI’s are designed to increase serotonin signaling, while MAOI’s block the enzyme responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters.
Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products at the FDA, believes that there is evidence showing that a combination of prescribed antidepressants and talk therapy is the most effective way to treat patients with medication. It all begins with talking to your doctor about a diagnosis and the best form of treatment for you.